Stress is a significant contributor to the effects of subluxation (the chiropractic lesion in your joints of the spine and other structures of the body). Stress makes symptoms worse and symptoms make stress worse.
Stress affects your body and mind by causing irritating stimuli to the brain and therefore the rest of the nerve system and body. In order to understand the way stress works against your health and well being, you must understand the nerve system effects of stress. This understanding will likely motivate you to change your life patterns, relationships or other situations to remove stress from your life, because you will know how important it can be to do so. Finding the source of stress in your life means taking a look at your work, family, and other relationships, as well as taking account of the balance between your activities and rest, dietary habits, and whether or not your body is functioning at it optimal level for you to adapt to your environment.
You may need to include meditation, more regular rest, or be willing to change your lifestyle in order to be fully healthy and to feel less pain and more energy. Relying on someone else to fix your health problems without taking account of what you can do to recover your health is a recipe for recurrent problems.
Brain and Nerve System Functions and Stress
A large portion of your brain function depends on a balance of input from irritating (noxious) nerve stimuli, and movement (proprioception) stimuli from the body. Note that noxious nerve stimuli (from receptors that are all over your body) are different than pain. Pain is a conscious and emotional response to noxious nerve input. Not all noxious stimulation is conscious. You are likely not aware of most noxious processes (thankfully) taking place in your body. Pain is your perception, not a direct sensation.
A subluxation is a joint that has been injured at some point and the ligaments or disc between the bones have been damaged. These “soft tissue” injuries cause the joint between the bones to move improperly and sometimes also to become misaligned. The damage to the soft tissues means the nerve endings in the soft tissues have also been damaged, thus creating a decrease in mechanical stimuli that help control function and also help to decrease pain. The inflammation created by the tissue damage and the improper movement causes chemical irritation that then also causes increased noxious stimuli. The increased noxious impulses along with the decreased mechanical nerve stimuli lead to increased sensitivity and more pain.
Proprioceptors (nerve endings that signal movement, pressure and other mechanical stimuli) are all over your body. In the spine, a proprioceptor can detect less than a nanometer of movement. If a joint cannot go through its normal range of motion, the body recognizes this as noxious stimuli and will initiate the body’s stress response via the sympathetic nervous system. When a proprioceptor fires it inhibits noxious input and thereby inhibits the sympathetic nervous system and inhibits part of the stress response.
Noxious input from problems like subluxations also stimulates the stress response. A chiropractic adjustment is aimed at restoring normal joint motion and alignment, which reduces the interference of normal nerve function that is described above. Massage and exercise have similar, but different effects, and are employed specifically with different cases. Mechanical stimulation such as chiropractic adjustments, massage and exercise stimulates proprioception (position sense) and inhibits nociception (noxious sensations) via the pathways in the spine and brain. This mechanical stimulation can block pain and relax muscles. An example of this experience is when you bump your leg or arm and naturally seek to rub it to relieve the pain.
Each mechanical therapy stimulates different areas of the brain. Every adjustment fires to the cerebellum, which fires to the hypothalamus, which controls the immune and autonomic (organ systems) function of the body. Therefore the chiropractic adjustment can potentially have far reaching effects beyond just the perception of pain, but the actual function of organs and immune systems. Studies on these processes are few, but encouraging, so most of what we know about this relationship is based on clinical experience and connecting the dots between the different studies that exist.
The autonomic nervous system (or visceral nervous system) is the part of the peripheral (not in the spine or brain) nervous system that controls homeostasis (balance functions of all bodily systems). The autonomic system is made up of the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions, which typically function both in opposition and complimentary to each other. One system can be like the brakes and the other similar to the accelerator, for example. The sympathetic and parasympathetic activity can be ascribed to "fight" or "rest" situations, or to simply changing positions from lying down to standing up, keeping the blood pressure just right so you don’t faint. More generally, these two systems should be seen as permanently balancing vital functions, in usually antagonistic fashion, to achieve homeostasis.
This balance of systems can be disturbed by changes in the structure as described above or by stress or other long term stimulation like chemical irritation from substance abuse, poor diet, medication side effects, etc. that challenges the brain to adapt the body to its environment.
Health is ultimately the body’s systems functioning in homeostatic balance and adapting to the changing environment. Restoring health, many times, means including care that helps remove nerve interference such as receiving needed chiropractic care or maintaining good rest, exercises and diet habits, as well as maintaining healthy social life and relationships.
Below you will find a few of the interesting published papers on this subject:
Chiropractic Adjustments Improve Brain Function
A study presented at the International Research and Philosophy Symposium held at Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic finds that Chiropractic adjustments have a positive effect on the Central Nervous System (CNS), specifically on the four primary frequencies of brain function: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.
The study was conducted over a three year period. Approximately 100 volunteers were examined with an electroencephalogram (EEG) before and after chiropractic adjustments.
The EEG scans were examined to check the right/left balance, the amount of total activity, the primary regions of activity and the effect of the adjustment.
After receiving a chiropractic adjustment, post EEG scans revealed improvement in all areas of the volunteer’s brain function. Particularly, the researchers noticed an increase in the meditative Alpha brainwave patterns that are associated with a greater degree of relaxation, health and healing.
The researchers noted that some of the volunteers already had balanced and active brain scans and the adjustments had little effect on their post scans. They felt this was a good indicator that the adjustments had no negative effects on brain activity.
Pain. 2011 Feb 7. [Epub ahead of print]
Symptoms of depression and stress mediate the effect of pain on disability.
Hall AM, Kamper SJ, Maher CG, Latimer J, Ferreira ML, Nicholas MK.
The George Institute for Global Health, PO Box M201, Missenden Road, NSW 2050, Australia.
The mechanism or mechanisms involved in the development of pain-related disability in people with low back pain is unclear. Psychological distress has been identified as one potential pathway by which an episode of pain influences the development of persistent disabling symptoms; however, the relationship has not been formally investigated. This study investigated the causal relationship between pain and disability via psychological distress (and its components depression, stress, and anxiety) by using mediation path analysis. The study sample included 231 participants with subacute low back pain (6 to 12 weeks' pain duration) who had been recruited for an exercise-based randomized, controlled trial. All participants completed self-report assessments of pain (0-10 numerical rating scale), disability (Roland Morris Disability Questionnaire), and psychological distress (Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale) at baseline and again at 2 follow-up time points (6 and 12 weeks after baseline). The results of the mediation analysis suggest that approximately 30% of the relationship between subacute pain and later disability is dependent on the level of patients' psychological distress. The finding that psychological distress only partially (30%) mediated the pain-disability relationship indicates that other factors should also be explored. Further analysis into the components of psychological distress revealed that the symptoms of depression and stress, but not anxiety, are responsible for mediation of the pain-disability relationship. These findings provide an opportunity to decrease the risk of long-term disability through early identification and management of depressive and stress symptoms. Psychological distress symptoms at 6 weeks in patients with low back pain influences future disability. Symptoms of depression and stress, but not anxiety, are responsible for mediation of the pain-disability relationship
Stress Health. 2011 Feb;27(1):52-53.
Depressive symptoms and bodily pain: The role of physical disability and social stress.
Gayman MD, Brown RL, Cui M.
Department of Sociology, Georgia State University, GA, USA.
This study evaluates the bi-directional association between depressive symptoms and bodily pain, and examines the role of physical disability and perceived social stress in the depression-pain relationship. Data are employed from a two-wave panel study of Miami-Dade county residents (n = 1,459) that includes a substantial over-sampling of individuals who identify as physically-disabled. Findings indicate that the bi-directional relationship between depression and pain is similar for those with and without a physical disability. Results also demonstrate that stress exposure, specifically recent life events and daily discrimination, partially mediated the relationship between prior levels of depression and changes in pain. Directions for future research and the need for a more comprehensive model of health incorporating physical, psychological, and social factors are discussed.
Comment from Dr. Lopes:
Anxiety and stress frequently attack the weak spots of the spine, and it is the spine that can cause general muscular tension, headaches, migraine, neck pain and back pain. This pain can then aggravate the stress and anxiety and so chiropractic treatment is aimed at relieving any physical complaints which will in turn help with the mental conditions.